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Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, the United States has always been a country of refuge for the persecuted, a protector of life and individual freedoms. This is evident in the entire purpose of our Nation's asylum program under which foreign nationals who can show a credible fear of persecution in their home country may apply for and receive shelter here.

But flaws in the asylum program leave it vulnerable and open to exploitation by those who mean us harm. I have, therefore, proposed two amendments to the immigration reform bill, amendments No. 1391 and 1393, that are designed to lessen those flaws by giving asylum officers the tools they need to dismiss frivolous claims and, more important, to ensure that derogatory information about applicants who may wish to harm us is reviewed during the application process.

Before I outline those amendments in detail, I would like to discuss the circumstances under which the suspects in the Boston Marathon terrorist attack came to be in the United States and how that terrible attack underscores the need for reform of our asylum process.

According to media reports, the younger of the two Tsarnaev brothers came to the United States on a tourist visa in 2002 and was granted asylum on his father's petition shortly thereafter.

As I mentioned before, asylum is supposed to be only available to those who can show a credible fear of persecution in their home country.

Curiously, and notwithstanding his supposed fear of persecution back home, the father came to the United States with only one of his four children, leaving his wife and three other children behind in the land he claimed to fear.

I can't help but wonder whether the asylum officer who reviewed Mr. Tsarnaev's application was aware of that fact and to what extent this was considered in determining whether he met the burden of proving a credible fear of persecution by his country, since, after all, he had left his wife and three of his four children behind.

Whatever the circumstances that caused Mr. Tsarnaev to seek asylum in 2002, after the Boston Marathon bombing, the international media caught up
with him back in the land where he came from and now lives.

Even more curious are the questions surrounding the grant of asylum to another Chechen immigrant, the individual who was shot dead while being questioned by the FBI agents and local law enforcement regarding his association with the Tsarnaevs and a 2011 triple homicide. After his death, reports indicated this individual came to the United States in 2008 on a J-1 visa, the type of visa intended to promote cultural understanding that allows foreign students to work and study in our country, and that individual was granted asylum sometime later that year in 2008.

The way in this particular case the visa operated is he was supposed to work for 4 months and then travel for 1 month in our country, but that is not what happened. Last month, I was contacted by the Council on International Educational Exchange, or CIEE, a J-1 visa sponsor organization located in my home State of Maine. CIEE told me they had learned this individual had come to the United States through their program, arriving in June of 2008. From the start, it appears he had no intention of complying with CIEE's J-1 visa rules and, thus, on July 29 of 2008, CIEE withdrew its sponsorship of him because he failed to provide the required documentation with respect to his employment.

That very day, CIEE, which is a very responsible organization, instructed him to make immediate plans to leave the country because they could not verify his employment, a key condition of the J-1 visa rules. CIEE then recorded this information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS, the database used by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State to keep track of foreign visitors who travel to the United States on exchange visas.

As I understand the facts, CIEE did everything right. It followed the rules. When this individual was clearly out of compliance with the conditions of his visa, it alerted DHS and the State Department he was out of compliance. I have spoken to the President of CIEE, who told me his organization was shocked to learn this individual had been granted asylum and later given a green card.

I find this very curious. How is it that a young man from Chechnya comes to the United States to participate in a cultural exchange program, immediately violates the conditions of that program, is told to leave our country but then is able to be granted asylum? The fact that he was out of compliance with his visa was correctly recorded in the SEVIS database. Did the asylum officer who approved his application review that information? Did he check the database for derogatory information? Were any other databases, such as that maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center, consulted during the review of this asylum applicant? When and where was his asylum application reviewed and approved and by whom?

More than 2 weeks ago, I asked these fundamental questions of the Department of Homeland Security through staff and by letters I personally sent to the Office of Legislative Affairs and to Secretary Janet Napolitano. Despite repeated phone calls and e-mails from my staff, the Department has still not provided me with the answers. Instead, what I have received are excuses, despite the fact the subject of my inquiry is dead and my questions are directly relevant to the asylum provisions in the immigration bill before us.

Think about the failure of the DHS to provide the basic information I have requested. I have not asked about the individual's relationship to the terrorist attack in Boston, nor have I asked about his alleged connection to the triple homicide. The questions I have asked relate only to when he applied for and received asylum, whether the information related to his violation of his visa requirements was available and reviewed by the officer who granted him asylum, and I have asked who made the decision to grant him asylum.

We know from media reports his asylum application was acted on in 2008, 5 years ago. Is the Department saying, through its silence, that information related to this individual's asylum application did, in fact, foreshadow the terrorist attack in Boston in April and his ultimate death last month? Why was his application approved? Why didn't the Department deport him from our country when it was clear he was no longer in compliance with his J-1 visa?

The basic question is: Why wasn't this individual deported from our country when it was clear he was no longer in compliance with the requirements of his J-1 visa? Instead, what happens? He is granted asylum and then later given a green card.

I can only take the Department's refusal to provide answers as a tacit admission that a flawed asylum process allowed a dangerous man to get into our country on false pretenses and to stay. That possibility, that likelihood, underscores the importance of the two amendments I am offering.

The first of my amendments, No. 1391, would require that before an individual can be granted asylum, biographic and biometric information about that individual must be checked against the appropriate records and databases of the Federal Government, including those maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center. In addition, this amendment requires the asylum officer find that the information in those records and databases supports the applicant's claim of asylum or, if derogatory information is uncovered, that the applicant is still able to meet the burden of proof required by law.

The second of my two amendments, No. 1393, would provide asylum officers with the authority to dismiss what are clearly frivolous claims, without prejudice to the applicant, and requires asylum officers and immigration judges to obtain more detailed information from the State Department on the conditions in the country from which asylum is sought.

In other words, what we have discovered is this is another example of one department not talking to another department. It is very difficult for an asylum officer to make a correct decision if he or she lacks information about conditions in the originating country.

This amendment also calls for increased staffing for the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate at asylum offices funded through fees in this bill.

We can never know for sure whether the reforms I am calling for in these two amendments would have kept these dangerous individuals out of this country and perhaps even prevented the terrorist attack in Boston and the triple murder in another town in Massachusetts.

But the way in which they use the asylum process clearly demonstrates that it can be and will be abused. My amendments will give asylum officers the tools they need to help prevent that kind of fraudulent use of a very important and worthwhile system, and it will help to protect the American public from those who would do us harm.

With these modest reforms, America's asylum process will continue to shelter those who legitimately fear persecution in their home countries, but it will be less easily taken advantage of by those who seek to harm us.

I urge my colleagues to support these commonsense amendments.

I yield the floor.


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